Archive for the 'OH-Gov' Category

Gubernatorial rating changes: Arkansas is now the sole safe governorship for Democrats

We are down to only one safe Democratic governorship anywhere in the country.

With New York moving to the “likely Democratic” column due to a series of developments (Rick Lazio’s withdrawal, polls showing a single-digit race, questions about Attorney General-fatigue) and with Governor Lynch looking increasingly shaky in New Hampshire’s until-recently safe governorship, Democrats don’t have much left to hang onto. And they should be grateful key governorships like Missouri, Washington and North Carolina are not in play this year.

And yet, despite the large number of contests that have moved towards the GOP in recent months, Democratic odds continue to brighten in the country’s biggest prize: California. Despite Jerry Brown’s many gaffes (I still find it hard to believe he let himself be baited into attacking Bill Clinton) and Meg Whitman’s record spending, the Democrat looked like he was finally opening up a lead in recent weeks - and that was before Whitman’s former housekeeper shook-up the race with her accusatory press conference. Whitman has been on the defensive ever since, even offering to take a polygraph test before retracting herself. I am leaving the race in the toss-up section for now, but it’s certainly tilting Democratic - something I would certainly not had said two weeks ago.

And Democrats got good news from a far more unlikelier place this week: the Midwest! While the entire region looked all but lost for Democratic candidates, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn have suddenly rebounded in a series of polls (3 Ohio polls showing a 1%-race within 24 hours whereas we hadn’t since that type of margin since June, and 2 Illinois surveys showing a toss-up); they both remain “lean Republican” for now, but whereas two weeks ago both states were close to moving further towards the GOP they are now very much in play. Also in the Midwest, there is now enough evidence that Minnesota looks good for Democrats that I am moving the race out of the toss-up column.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the other big “toss-up” prize is going the other direction. Rick Scott’s millions look to be having the same effect in the general election as they did in the GOP primary, as he has erased the consistent advantage Alex Sink enjoyed since late August. This is a race Democrats should really focus on - both because of Florida’s size and because the contest remains very much winnable given Scott’s obvious vulnerabilities. In other good news for the GOP, Georgia and New Mexico move to “lean Republican” while Iowa and Oklahoma move to “likely Republican.”

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held Kansas
Wyoming
Iowa
Michigan
Oklahoma
Tennessee
Illinois
NM
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Wisconsin
Maine
Maryland
Oregon
Massachusetts Colorado
NH
New York
Arkansas
GOP-held Idaho
Nebraska
SD
Utah
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Nevada
SC
Georgia
Texas
California
Florida
Vermont
Connecticut
Hawaii
Minnesota
Rhode Island

Georgia, toss-up to lean Republican: While Roy Barnes remains very much in contention, Georgia has become too GOP-friendly a state for a Democrat not to be an underdog - especially when it doesn’t appear that turnout among African-Americans (a key constituency for Democrats in any state, let alone in Georgia) will be anywhere as high as in 2008. Add to that the fact that the race will go to a December runoff if neither candidate reaches 50%, and the very least we can say is that Barnes will not be the victor on November 2nd. That said, it is fairly likely he’ll be able to hold former Rep. Nathan Deal under that threshold too. Deal might have taken a consistent albeit narrow lead in the polls, but he has a lot of baggage (remember that he resigned from the House in the hopes of avoiding the release of a damning ethics report) that might get wider exposure in a runoff campaign.

Iowa, lean Republican to likely Republican: It’s hard to remember, but Governor Culver actually started the cycle in a fairly comfortable position; that was before the electorate turned against Democrats, before the Midwest became ground zero of the party’s nightmare and before Terry Branstad announced he would seek his old position back. Culver trailed Branstad massively from the beginning of the campaign, and the more we approach Election Day the more hopeless his situation becomes. It’s one thing for an incumbent to trail by double-digits a year before the election; quite another six weeks prior. At the moment, Iowa no longer appears to be in play - and Branstad is probably going to become king-maker as head of the state that is going to lunch the 2012 Republican primaries.

Minnesota, toss-up to lean Democratic: Minnesota is one relatively bright spot for Democrats. Since Democrats nominated Mark Dayton to be their nominee, the former Senator has enjoyed a decent lead in a series of polls - typically in the high single-digits. This can be attributed to a number of factors. For one, the incumbent Governor is a Republican - a rare sight in the Midwest, and one that seems to be diminishing voters’ desire to turn to the GOP to achieve changeover.

Second, Republican nominee Tom Emmer is very conservative, especially on social issues - more than is advisable for a GOP nominee in a swing state that typically tilts to the left. While many other conservatives are highly competitive in blue states (think of Brady in Illinois), the fact that this an open race means Emmer cannot just deflect attention to an incumbent’s unpopularity. Furthermore, the presence of Independent Party nominee Tom Horner gives moderates who do not want to vote for a Democrat this year a place to go other than Emmer. And we certainly cannot rule out Horner becoming a contender for the win; he is flirting with the 20% bar in polls.

New Mexico, toss-up to lean Republican: Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish has to be all the more pained at the collapse of her gubernatorial prospects that she was so close from becoming Governor at the end of 2008: Obama had appointed Governor Bill Richardson to his Cabinet, and had Richardson not withdrawn from consideration Denish would have replaced him in the Governor’s Mansion. But that only seemed to delay her coronation, as Denish started off in a strong position to win the open Governor’s race in 2010.

That was before it became clear just how powerful the GOP wave had become - and just how much Democrats would suffer in states in which they are unpopular at the local level on top of the national level. New Mexico is one of these states. While it looked to have swung decisively blue in 2008, Richardson’s ethical struggles combined and the state’s economic difficulties transformed the political landscape - and what was unimaginable 18 months ago is now very much true: Denish is undeniably trailing her Republican opponent, DA Susana Martinez, who has been highly-touted by GOP officials ever since she won her primary. Going forward, remember that New Mexico is one of those states Obama has to defend in 2010.

New York, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Governor Carl Paladino… That’s such a difficult notion to entertain I have trouble upgrading the GOP’s prospects in this race, but there is no question that what long looked like an Andrew Cuomo juggernaut has weakened. His 40% leads are no more, and while all polls still show he remains the clear favorite, two post-primary surveys have found that the race is down to single-digits. Perhaps the sight of a Governor-in-waiting annoyed New Yorkers and perhaps there is something to the argument that an Attorney General’s popularity is shallow and can easily be punctured (as was demonstrated with Martha Coakley and to a lesser extent with Richard Blumenthal); or perhaps the margin was always bound to shrink given that suburban New Yorkers already signaled in November 2009 just how much they were ready to oust Democrats (Tom Suozzi can speak to that). Add to that Rick Lazio’s decision to drop out of the race, allowing Paladino to consolidate the Conservative Party line on top of the GOP line, and a path to victory opens up for the Republican nominee.

That said, New York is still a reliably Democratic state and Paladino (a millionaire best-known for sending out racist emails, for getting in a physical altercation with a New York Post reporter and for proposing to house welfare recipients in prisons) is so extremist that a number of Republicans have looked uncomfortable campaigning for him. The mere fact that we’re considering a victory by Paladino  possible is a testament to the GOP’s success this year; it’s hard to imagine Republicans can hope for more

Oklahoma, lean Republican to likely Republican: On paper, Democrats should have a good chance to defend this governorship: Not only do they have a strong candidate in Lieutenant Governor Jeri Askins but they won the last open race, which held in 2002 - no bright year for their party. But the electorate is far more hostile towards Democrats this year than it was eight years ago. Oklahoma is simply too conservative a state for Republicans not to be clearly favored in these circumstances, and Republican Rep. Mary Fallin (a former Lieutenant Governor) is not the type of politician to blunder her way out of front-running status. One thing is clear: Oklahoma will have its first female Governor come 2011.

Ratings update: The landscape isn’t done shifting away from Dems

I first want to thank all those who wrote very kind words after I announced I would end regular blogging, either in the comments section, via e-mail or Twitter. It was very heart-warming to know how much Campaign Diaries meant to so many people. As I promised then, I am now thinking about the best way to put together a weekly update system. Perhaps it would be best to keep it open so I have the flexibility to do what I think fits the week best, though I will try to be regular.

This week, I am posting a “ratings update”, as many of my race assesments grew stale over the past month - most notably in Indiana and upstate New York. The races that are written in red are those in which the rating is changing towards Republicans; those that are written in blue are those in which the rating is changing towards Democrats.

Senate

Indiana, lean Democratic to toss-up: All hell broke loose in the Hoosier State when Evan Bayh announced his retirement just 24 hours from the filing deadline, but Democrats have managed to stabilize the situation by convincing Rep. Brad Ellsworth to give up his relatively safe House seat for a tough statewide campaign. (To be clear: Ellsworth has not yet been officially tapped by the party committee, but there is little doubt he will be the nominee.) If Ellsworth manages to defend this conservative-leaning state in an environment that is this toxic for his party, it will largely be because Bayh’s timing prevented Republicans from securing as formidable a nominee as they would have otherwise: It would have been harder to imagine Ellsworth prevailing against Mitch Daniels, Todd Rokita or Mike Pence than against former Senator Dan Coats, a former lobbyist who moved away from the state and hasn’t faced voters since 1992, or against former Rep. John Hostettler, who has always ran poor campaigns and has a very rough relationship with national Republicans. The GOP nonetheless starts with a slight edge, but Indiana is sure to host a highly competitive campaign.

Governor

Illinois-Gov, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Not only is Pat Quinn running as the incumbent Governor of a Midwestern state - a sure way to face electoral trouble this year - but he cannot even count on one of the biggest assets of incumbency - voter familiarity: He came to become Governor upon Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment rather than through a victory of his own. Add to this the possibility that Blagojevich’s summer trial reflects badly on state Democrats, and the GOP has reason to hope it can oust Quinn. Yet, state Senator Bill Brady’s apparent victory should prevent Republicans from making full use of Governor Pat Quinn’s vulnerabilities as the relatively conservative state Senator could have trouble making himself acceptable to this blue state’s electorate. The fact that he is from downstate could boost GOP turnout across the state, but it might cause moderate voters in the Chicago suburbs not to support him. Furthermore, Brady has been denied the bounce primary winners typically get because it took a month for his victory over state Senator Kirk Dillard to be confirmed, while Quinn displayed strong survival skills in the Democratic primary.

Pennsylvania, toss-up to lean Republican: This is one of the most bizarre races of the cycle because of Democrats’ inability to recruit a strong candidate in what should have been one of the party’s priority. Former Rep. Joe Hoeffel, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Auditor General Jack Wagner might make decent candidates, but none of them appears to have much name recognition nor a preexisting popularity that would help them beat back the electorate’s current hostility towards Democrats. Attorney General Tom Corbett, on the other hand, has been a dominant force in the GOP primary and polls show he is well-known and relatively well-liked.

Ohio, lean Democratic to toss-up: Governor Ted Strickland entered the cycle in a very comfortable position. He had triumphed in the 2006 open seat race, he enjoyed strong approval ratings and it did not look like Ohio Republicans could recover from years of dismal showings in time to mount a credible challenge. Yet, the recession has hit Midwestern states with particular ferocity, and it is no shock that Strickland’s poll numbers have fallen along with Ohioans’ economic condition. Republicans are high on former Rep. John Kasich, and Ohio’s status as one of the premier swing states should ensure national parties prioritize this race. While polls differ as to where it stands (Quinnipiac has Strickland leading outside of the margin of error, Rasmussen shows Kasich leading by large margins), there is no doubt it’s one of the country’s most competitive contests.

Texas, likely Republican to lean Republican: Rick Perry displayed amazing political resilience throughout 2009, dispatching popular Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison with an ease no one could have foreseen a year ago. Yet, he did so by using a strategy that should be ill-fitted to beat former Houston Mayor Bill White in the general election: The electorate Perry needs to court should be less amused by his talk of secession and his refusal to take federal funds and White will not suffer from anti-Washington sentiment the way Hutchison did. Add to that Perry’s clear vulnerabilities - not only is it not good to be an incumbent governor this year, but his approval rating is decidedly mediocre and he won re-election with only 39% of the vote in 2006 - and White has a clear shot at winning Democrats’ first major victory in Texas since 1990.

Utah, safe Republican to likely Republican: Are Republicans trembling with fear at the thought of facing Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon in the general election? No: Utah is too conservative a state for a Democrat to ever have that credible a shot at winning a statewide victory. Yet, Coroon does represent one third of the state’s population in a capacity that ensures he is visible and recent polls show he could score an upset if Gary Herbert (an unelected incumbent) stumbles.

House

FL-21, safe Republican to likely Republican: While candidates who try to succeed family members are more often than not successful, Mario Diaz-Balart’s announcement that he would run to replace his retiring brother Lincoln was so bizarre that it is worth keeping an eye on whether Democrats can recruit a strong candidate, attack Mario’s credibility and make the most of Southern Florida’s growing openness to voting for Democrats (Gore lost the district by 16%, Obama by 2%).

FL-25, likely Republican to lean Republican: Mario Diaz-Balart decided to switch districts because he felt FL-21 was a safer bet for a Republican than his FL-25, which covers western Miami-Dade County. While that means concentrating on FL-21 might not be advisable for Democrats, it also signals that an open seat in FL-25 is a real opportunity - even in a tough environment. Yet, much will depend on Democratic recruitment. While Republicans have already lined up top candidates (state Rep. David Rivera is running and state Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz will probably join him), Democrats are waiting for 2008 nominee Joe Garcia to make up his mind; Garcia, who now works in the Obama administration, came close to defeating Diaz-Balart two years ago.

IN-08, safe Democratic to toss-up: Evan Bayh’s retirement caused open seat headaches not only for Senate Democrats but also for their House counterparts, as Brad Ellsworth withdrew his name from the IN-08 ballot hours before the filing deadlne in the expectation that he’d be chosen to replace Bayh. Thankfully for the DCCC, the timing of Ellsworth’s exit might very well save the party: the GOP did not have time to recruit a top candidate. Heart surgeon Larry Bucshon would be a credible nominee, but you can be sure Republicans would have been able to find a far stronger candidate had IN-8 become an open seats weeks before - not to mention Bucshon can’t be sure to win the 8-way primary! Ellsworth, meanwhile, was able to orchestrate a transition with state Rep. Trent Van Haaften, who thus has a stronger shot at defending the district. All of this said, IN-8 remains red-leaning, the DCCC’s first choice (Evansville Mayor Jon Weinsapfel) passed on the race and the environment is tough enough that this open seat is no better than a toss-up for Democrats.

KS-03, toss-up to lean Republican: While Democrats can never expect to have it easy in Kansas, this is one open seat they should not have let get this compromised: KS-03 voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and the party had a reasonable bench from which to pick a candidate. Yet, one by one Democrats have ruled out running - the biggest blow being Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon - while the GOP field leaves nothing to be desired. The DCCC is now reduced to hoping that Rep. Dennis Moore’s wife Stephene Moore runs, as reports suggest she might; while she might be able to keep the party competitive, it’s hard to see how an inexperienced political spouse can get elected in a swing district in the absence of any sympathy factor.

MA-10, safe Democratic to lean Democratic: Rumors that Rep. Delahunt was preparing to retire started swirling in early 2010, but you can bet the DCCC was hoping they would not come to be true. MA-10 might be the state’s less Democratic seat, but this is likely the only cycle in which the GOP would have a real chance of winning an open race in a district that gave Gore, Kerry and Obama double-digit victories. Yet, MA-10 also decisively voted for Scott Brown, proving that voters are open to backing a Republican - and the NRCC is confident that former state Treasurer Joe Malone will make the most of this opportunity. Democrats in the running at the moment are state Sen. Robert O’Leary and Norfolk Co. DA William Keating.

MS-04, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Gene Taylor has easily held a district that gave John McCain 68% of the vote since 1989, convincing tens of thousands of conservative voters to support him: he received more than 75% in six of his last last seven races. His electoral track record make him a solid bet for re-election, but if there is any year the GOP could unseat him, it’s in 2010. State Rep. Steven Palazzo has announced he will challenge Taylor, which is as serious a challenge as any the staunchly conservative Democrat has received recently.

NY-29, lean retention to toss-up: What is going on in the Empire State? Rep. Eric Massa became the latest New York politician to self-implode in a bizarre scandal involving harassment claims, unwanted tickling sessions and allegations that he was pushed out due to his opposition to the health-care bill. Even after the first headlines appeared, Massa’s abrupt decision to resign came as a surprise, though it simultaneously helps Nancy Pelosi find the votes to pass the health-care bill and gives the DCCC the headache of worrying about yet another problematic special election on top of May’s PA-12 and HI-01. In fact, the NY-29 special will be New York’s third in a single cycle - a number that matches the record set by far larger California a few cycles back! While Democrats pulled unlikely triumphs in NY-20 and NY-23 in 2009, NY-29 is more conservative since it is one of only three state districts to have voted for McCain. Furthermore, the Democratic nominee will have to run under the clout of the Paterson and Massascandals at a time the new York electorate has shown signs of being exasperated with the party. Finally, the GOP will not be weighed down by the two factors that doomed its NY-20 and NY-23 candidates (too much of a connection to Albany and intraparty fighting), as Corning Mayor Tom Reed is emerging as a consensus choice. That said, Reed, who was already running before Massa’s resignation, had never come to look as that formidable a candidate and the GOP might have been better off with a stronger contender. It remains to be seen who Democrats pick.

OH-02, likely Republican to safe Republican: While Democrats threw a lot at Rep. Jean Schmidt in 2005, 2006 and 2008, they never fielded the type of prominent candidate whose local ties could have overcome the district’s staunchly conservative lean. They thought they would finally be able to do so in 2010, but the state legislator whose candidacy the DCCC spent months touting dropped out in November. The Democratic nominee will be Surya Yalamanchili, a political novice whose claim to fame comes from a bout on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, or David Krikorian, who got double-digits running as an independent in 2008. While they might have been promising candidates in other years, voters seem too reluctant to oust a GOP incumbent this year for a Republican holding a 59%-McCain district to have much to worry about - however controversial her profile.

OH-13, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: For car dealer Tom Ganley to defeat Rep. Betty Sutton would be one of the biggest upsets of Election Night, and yet it is no longer possible to rule out such results. While OH-13 gave John Kerry and Barack Obama double-digits victories, Ganley is reportedly willing to spend as much as $1 million of his money funding his race and Sutton is too junior a lawmaker for Democrats to be confident she can resist voters’ hostility towards her party. At the very least, OH-13 could emerge as a late headache for the DCCC, forcing the party committee to spend precious resources defending Sutton rather than more obviously vulnerable Democrats.

RI-01, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Democrats were sure not expecting to spend as much as a minute worrying about a district that gave Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama more than 62% of the vote, but Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s retirement has given the GOP hope that state Rep. John Loughlin can make the race competitive. The Democratic field is made up of two prominent contenders with a relatively progressive reputation - Providence Mayor David Cicilline and state Democratic Party chairman William Lynch; an ugly race could open the door to Loughlin, since the primary will not be held until September 14th. A wild card is the possible candidacy of former Providence MayorBuddy Cianci, who recently spent four years in federal prison but has now said he is considering an independent run.

Poll watch: Democrats are strong in IL, have a shot in SD; Castle and Burr dominate

I wouldn’t go as far as to describe this week’s polling round-up as generally good for Democrats; after all, numerous of their House incumbents look vulnerable, Rob Portman retains a small lead in Ohio, Castle dominates, Richard Burr is up by double-digits and Pete Domenici is closer to Diane Denish than New Mexico Democrats would like. Yet, there is plenty for the party to point to as evidence that they are managing to stay afloat and that the GOP still has a lot of work to do to ensure they’ll benefit from as big a red wave as they’re hoping to. In particular, Research 2000’s Illinois poll and Quinnipiac’s Ohio survey find Democrats Alexi Giannoulias, Pat Quinn and Ted Strickland in stronger positions than conventional wisdom dictates; Democrats look like they have an unexpectedly credible shot at South Dakota’s governorship; and Rep. Harry Teague is in a far more competitive position than you would expect given that he is often described as one of November’s surest Democratic losers (2 polls have him within the MoE against former Rep. Steve Pearce).

House

New Mexico: It’s rare enough to have one House survey a week that PPP’s decision to test all three of New Mexico’s House races was a one of the week’s treats. The results are encouraging for both parties, though the most poll’s most surprising finding will delight the NRCC: Rep. Ben Lujan, who represents a district Obama won by 23% and who I had never heard described as competitive, leads his two Republican challengers by decidedly underwhelming margins: 42% to 36% against Tom Mullins, 40% to 32% against Adam Kokesh. That’s not to say he will lose, nor that the race will be competitive come the fall, but it does speak to the probability that a number of Democratic districts that are now on no one’s radar screen should find themselves vulnerable in the campaign’s final stretch (see what happened to the GOP in 2006). Interestingly, Rep. Martin Heinrich, a more obvious target since he is a freshman, leads Jon Barela by a somewhat more solid 45% to 36%.

But the more interesting race is happening NM-02, which is not only the state’s most conservative seat (it went for Bush by 17%) but former Rep. Steve Pearce is running for his old seat after running for Governor in 2008. This has led many to think Rep. Teague is one of the fall’s surest losers, which makes Pearce’s 43% to 41% lead seem like it should be a relief for Democrats as it certainly shows Teague is far from a sure loser. (In particular, consider that the traditional rules about how a challenger topping an incumbent in an early poll is clearly favored does not apply here since Pearce is probably better-known than the incumbent.) On the other hand, the poll should not be spun as bad news for the GOP: The bottom-line is that NM-02 is one of the party’s top pick-up opportunities indeed. In fact, Pearce released an internal poll last week showing himself leading 48% to 44%.

SD-AL: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin remains on top of her Republican opponents in a new Rasmussen poll, but Secretary of State Chris Nelson is within striking distance since he holds the incumbent Democrat under 50% and within single-digit: She leads 45% to 38%. Herseth-Sandlin is far stronger against Kristi Noem (49% to 34%) and against state Rep Blake Curd (51% to 33%), which certainly suggests she is in a far stronger position than many of her fellow Democrats. As the poll’s gubernatorial numbers also speak to (see below), South Dakotans don’t look committed to ushering in GOP rule.

Senate

Ohio: Democrats might be losing ground in Senate races left and right, but they remain in striking distance of picking-up Ohio’s open seat according to Quinnipiac’s new poll. Republican Rob Portman is up within the margin of error (40-37) against Democrat Lee Fisher and he leads 40-35 against Jennifer Brunner. These margins are similar to those Quinnipiac found back in November, though it should be said that both Democratic candidates spent much of 2009 crushing Portman by double-digits - an advantage that was erased as the electorate soured on the the party in the latter half of the year. Despite their prominent stature, all three candidates have low name recognition so the next few months could be crucial - starting with the run-up to the Democratic primary.

Florida: Rasmussen found more evidence of Charlie Crist’s collapse this week by showing Marco Rubio crushing him 54% to 36% - an unthinkable result just a few months ago that is now already coming to be expected; the pollster also confirms that Crist’s decline is due to his rising unpopularity among the electorate-at-large and not just among Republicans, since his once impressive approval rating is now down to 52-45. In the general election, both men lead Kendrick Meek by large margins: Crist is up 48-32, Rubio is up 51-31. But is it time to start testing 3-way match-ups with Crist as an independent?

Delaware: For once, Rasmussen and Research 2000 have similar results! The former shows Republican Rep. Mike Castle in control 53% to 32% (though the margin has shrunk by 7% since January) while the latter has him leading 53% to 35%. That does little to change the race’s “likely Republican” rating (especially when we consider Castle’s formidable 65/30 and 65/32 favorability ratings) but given the two candidates’ chances of stature the trendline also confirms it is too early for Democrats to give up.

North Carolina: Rasmussen released the most favorable poll Richard Burr is gotten in quite a while - far more favorable, in fact, than the survey PPP released last week. Not only does the Republican senator have large leads, but he also reaches 50%: He’s up 50-34 against Elaine Marshall and 51-29 against Cal Cunningham. Of course, Democrats long ago realized defeating Burr is a top proposition in this environment, but these numbers are nonetheless ugly for the party. On the other hand, an Elon University poll finds that only 24% of North Carolinians think Burr deserves re-election, versus 51% who think he should be replaced.

Pennsylvania: Franklin & Marshall sends some very ugly numbers Democrats’ way, though the bizarrely high number of undecided makes it hard to do much else than point to the wide disparity between the match-ups among registered voters and among likely voters. In the former group, Arlen Specter leads Pat Toomey 33% to 29% while Joe Sestak is only 3% behind (25-22); in the latter group, Toomey crushes both Democrats - 44-34 against Specter, 38-20 against Sestak. Could there be clearer signs of the turnout gap that’s threatening to submerge Democrats this fall?

Governor

Illinois/Ohio: I mentioned Quinnipiac and Research 2000’s polls finding Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and Ted Strickland in the lead in an earlier post, but the results are counter-intuitive enough that they bear repeating. In Ohio, Quinnipiac shows Strickand leading John Kasich 44% to 39%, which is obviously an underwhelming margin but is nonetheless an improvement over the 40-40 tie Quinnipiac found in November and is a far more encouraging result for Democrat than the large deficits Rasmussen has found in recent months; Strickland had almost started to look like a lost cause, but these numbers from a respected pollster suggest Ohio is definitely still winnable for Democrats.

In Illinois, Research 2000 has Governor Pat Quinn leading state Senator Kirk Dillard and state Senator Bill Brady 46-35 and 47-32. He might remain under 50%, but remember that in early February Quinn looked so damaged that he seemed to be marching towards a primary defeat. Yet, this is now the second post-primary poll to find him in command of the general election (the first was released last week), especially if his opponent is the more conservative Bill Brady - as still looks likely since Dillard has failed to overtake Brady after weeks of provisional ballot.

South Dakota: Would you have expected the week’s polling surprise to be that Democrats have a strong shot at picking up the governorship of this conservative state? Yea, me neither - especially considering that this finding comes out of a Rasmussen poll. Matched-up against three Republicans, state Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepreim holds his own: While he trails Lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard 41% to 32%, he is ahead against two other Republicans: 37% to 29% against state Senator Gordon Howie and 34% to 31% against state Senator Dave Knudson. That is of course nothing huge, but it certainly suggest that South Dakota voters aren’t desperate to jump in the GOP’s bandwagon.

New Mexico: It helps to have a famous name! While Pete Domenici Jr. has never been in the public spotlight before, he shares the first and last name of his father, former Senator Pete Domenici, which explains how his name recognition is so much higher in a new PPP poll than that of his fellow Republican candidates. The general election match-ups show that the contest is winnable by the GOP but that Democratic Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish is the front-runner: She leads Domenici Jr. 45-40, state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones 47-33 and DA Susana Martinez 46-42. One important factor in this campaign is whether Denish can free herself from Bill Richardson’s shadow: The outgoing governor has a catastrophic approval rating (28% to 63%).

Nevada: Earlier this week, I highlighted a POS poll that showed Governor Jim Gibbons improving his position in the GOP primary, which he was long expected not to have a chance at winning. Now, a Mason-Dixon poll confirms that Gibbons is increasingly competitive against Brian Sandoval: He trails 37% to 30%, whereas he was behind by 17% in Mason-Dixon’s prior poll. Given Gibbons’s worst-in-the-country approval rating of 17%, whether he can find a way to survive the primary will obviously go a long way towards determining the general election: While Sandoval crushes Rory Reid 51% to 29%, the Democrat tops Gibbons 42% to 38%. (The fact that Gibbons is within 4% of Reid says a lot about the latter’s weakness.)

Massachussetts: Despite a weak approval rating (35-54), Deval Patrick manages to stay on top of Suffolk’s general election match-ups because many voters who are discontent with him are choosing to support Democrat-turned-independent Tom Cahill, who enjoys a 31/16 favorability rating. Patrick tops Republican Charlie Baker 33% to 25%, with Cahill receiving 23% and 3% going to Green Party candidate Stein; if the Republican nominee is Christy Mihos, which at the moment seems unlikely given baker’s 47-17 primary lead, Patrick leads Cahill 34% to 26%, with 19% for Mihos. The main reason Democrats can hope that Cahill will actually maintain his level of support and help Patrick survive (whereas Daggett collapsed in New Jersey) is that Cahill is the state Treasurer and is better-known than either Republican candidates.

Wisconsin: Rasmussen’s latest numbers are similar to its previous ones: Republican Scott Walker would dominate Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 49% to 40%, whereas the Democrat would be more competitive if he were to face former Rep. Mark Neumann (44% to 42%). While that’s nothing for Barrett to be ashamed of, the poll also suggests that Barrett is not starting out as the formidable contender Democrats were hoping for. On the other hand, Wisconsin is a state in which we have seen very few non-Rasmussen polls (only a November PPP survey that had Barrett stronger comes to mind), so it would be nice to have more polling firms test this race as well as Feingold’s vulnerability.

Georgia: Former Governor Barnes manages to stay competitive in Rasmussen’s latest poll, but the match-ups are not as favorable than the pollster found last month: Barnes now trails the three most prominent Republican candidates (45-37 against State Insurance Commissioner Oxendine, 43-37 against Rep. Deal, 45-36 against SoS Handel) while tying state Sen. Johnson at 37%. Barnes would have been better-served by a more favorable environment, but he remains in a competitive position.

Rhode Island: Brown University’s poll finds a wide-open race with an early edge for Republican-turned-independent Linc Chaffee. If the Democratic nominee is Frank Caprio, The former Senator leads 34% with 38%, with 12% to the Republican Robitaille; if the Democratic nominee is Patrick Lynch, Chaffee leads by a wider 33% to 18%, with 14% for the Republican.

Poll watch: Bayh crushes Coats, Pomeroy & Shea-Porter struggle, GOP solid in PA

Less than three weeks from Texas’s primaries

Earlier this week, PPP shook up our expectations as Kay Bailey Hutchison suddenly looked in danger of being knocked out of the runoff by libertarian Debra Medina. Since then, three new Texas surveys have been released, all with a differing take on what is likely to happen on March 2nd. Research 2000 finds a likely runoff between Rick Perry and Hutchison, who come in at 42% and 30% with Medina at a still-impressive 17%. The University of Texas has Rick Perry closer to a first round victory (he is at 45%, with 16% still undecided) and a stunningly close race for second, with Hutchison at 21% and Medina at 19%. Finally, a poll conducted by two partisan firms shows Hutchison in front of Medina (27% to 19%) but Perry so close to 50% that it might not matter.

But all of these surveys were conducted before Medina attracted fire not only from the mainstream press but also conservatives like Glenn Beck for expressing openness to the possibility that the government was involved in bringing down of the World Trace Center. “I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard,” she said. “There are some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there, so I have not taken a position on that. I’m certainly not into mind control or thought policing people.” This has gained a lot of coverage and should negatively affect her numbers. The question is: Does it help Perry cross 50% on March 2nd?

Two of these surveys also tested the general election, both finding Houston Mayor Bill White well within striking distance. In R2000, he trails Perry only 46% to 42%; he’s down 47-41 against Hutchison and 44-43 against Medina. The margins are larger according to the University of Texas, but both Perry and Hutchison are well under 50% (they lead 44-35 and 43-34, respectively); Medina and White are tied at 36%.

Bayh might not be that vulnerable after all

The week’s other very interesting poll comes from Indiana, where Research 2000 is the first pollster to test former Senator Dan Coats since he announced he was planning a political comeback two weeks ago. And the result is far less favorable than what the GOP was hoping to see: Coats’s favorability rating is only 38-34, weaker than former Rep. John Hosettler’s, which stands at 40-33. Evan Bayh, whose favorability rating stands at a solid 61-33, demolishes Coats 55% to 35%; against Hostettler, he is up by a narrower yet solid 53% to 37%.

A major reason Bayh has been painted as vulnerable in recent week is a Rasmussen survey showing him struggling against Mike Pence and against Hostettler; R2000 paints a very different situation, so it will certainly be interesting to see where other polls pit the race. Yet, Coats sure doesn’t look like a game-changer - and perhaps we should not be surprised at that: remember that he has not had his name on a ballot since 1992. The past 10 days have marked the first time most Indiana residents have heard about him in over a decade, and the coverage has been remarkably negative, which explains the rough welcome Coats has gotten as he has started to hit the trail.

House

VA-05: Given the number of House surveys that have found Democratic incumbents sinking (SUSA in AR-02, IN-09 and OH-01, most notably), we could have expected Rep. Tom Perriello to be in far worse shape than PPP finds him in. One of the NRCC’s top targets, Perriello is tied against state Senator Robert Hurt, 44% to 44%; the Democrat manages leads ranging from 4% to 10% against other GOP candidates. (While they might have a lower-profile, don’t forget how often we have seen unknown Republicans grab leads against incumbent Democrats lately.) Making matters more complicated is the prospect that former Rep. Virgil Goode, whom Perriello defeated in 2008, run as an independent: Boosted by a 57-28 favorability rating, Goode ties Perriello at 41%, with Hurt at 12%.

ND-AL: Tom Pomeroy might be keeping his head above water, but Earl Pomeroy is more vulnerable than is commonly believed, at least according to Rasmussen’s new poll. Like many of his colleagues, the 17-year incumbent finds himself trailing against Republicans he probably would have crushed in most cycles: against state Rep. Rick Berg, he is down 46% to 40%. While he maintains a 45-44 edge over Kevin Cramer, he has defeated him twice before, making this result underwhelming. Pomeroy does have a 47-38 edge over low-profile Paul Schaffner, but even then he remains under the 50% threshold. Put ND-AL in the column of truly endangered districts few expected would be vulnerable as 2009 started.

NH-01 and NH-02: In addition to releasing a Senate race (see below), UNH conducted a poll of both of New Hampshire’s districts, finding a very tough landscape for Democrats. (An important caveat: the margin of error is a large 6.2%.) In NH-01, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is in a truly terrible position, failing to garner more than 33% whoever she faces and leading 43% to 33% against former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta. In NH-02, left open by Democrat Paul Hodes, former GOP Rep. Charlie Bass would be favored to regain his old seat if he runs: He leads Ann McLane Kuster 39% to 28% and Katrina Swett 37% to 30%. Sure, Bass’s name recognition is higher but New Hampshire does seem fertile ground for Republicans this year.

Senate

New Hampshire: Two different polls found remarkably similar results and confirmed what surveys have found over and over again since last fall, namely that Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has built a comfortable but stable lead over Rep. Paul Hodes. UNH has her ahead 41% to 33% while Rasmussen pits it at 46% to 39%. However, other Republicans are weaker: Hodes leads decisively against Ovide Lamontagne (38-29 in UNH, 44-38 in Rasmussen), while it is closer against William Binnie (he’s up 34-30 in UNH, trails 42-41 in Rasmussen). A recent Research 2000 poll showed that Ayotte is far from certain of winning the primary, but the fact that Hodes is trailing against a relatively unknown businessman is a bad sign for voters’ willingness to vote Democratic.

Missouri: Rasmussen might be the only pollster to find Robin Carnahan trailing outside of the margin of error, but today marked the second poll they have released with such a finding: Weighed down by Barack Obama’s 40-59 approval rating, Carnahan trails Rep. Roy Blunt 49% to 42%. Though Carnahan would likely have an edge in normal circumstances, Missouri is conservative enough that it should not surprise us to see Blunt carried by the GOP currents.

North Dakota: No miracle for Democrats in North Dakota, where Governor John Hoeven looks even more formidable than conventional wisdom dictates according to Rasmussen’s latest poll. Not only does he enjoy an eye-popping 85% approval rating, but he crushes state Senator Potter and former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp 71-17 and 65-29, respectively. This has got to be all the more frustrating for Democrats that Heitkamp’s has a respectable favorability rating (54-36).

Louisiana: Here’s one race Democrats will not be contesting come November. It’s been obvious for weeks that Rep. Charlie Melancon’s hopes of pulling off an upset have been fading, but the Rasmussen survey with Senator David Vitter leading 57% to 33% is brutal for Democrats. With a 67% to 26% favorability rating, Vitter’s standing bears no trace of the D.C. Madam scandal.

Pennsylvania: With Senate Democrats in bad shape in Delaware, Arkansas or Nevada, they cannot afford to lose but Rasmussen finds Pat Toomey leading Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak by decisive margins: 47-38 and 43-35, respectively. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again. I am not sure how a five-term senator can survive trailing by 9% and struggling to break 40%, while Pennsylvanians should be more open to voting for the lesser-known Sestak; that also explains why Toomey is further from 50% in the latter match-up. Yet, Specter manages to keep a comfortable lead in the primary: 51% to 36%. That might have been an encouraging back in the fall, but three months from Election Day, the time has come for Sestak to gain traction.

Governor

Colorado: Rasmussen confirms that replacing Governor Bill Ritter with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has improved Democratic prospects. While Ritter was weighed by a negative approval rating, Hickenlooper is popular (his favorability rating is 56-36); while Ritter trailed Scott McInnis in most late 2009 surveys, Hickenlooper leads 49% to 45%. That might not be anything for Democrats to celebrate, but it does leave them in a better position not just to defend the Governor’s Mansion but perhaps also the Senate seat.

Ohio: The good news for Ted Strickland is that his numbers are no longer in free fall. The bad news is that he stopped the bleeding too late not to look highly endangered. Weighed down by a negative approval rating (46-53) and facing a challenger that appears popular (John Kasich’s favorability rating is 47-30), Strickland trails 47% to 41% according to Rasmussen; that’s slightly less than in January, but it leaves him in a rough spot. Might Ohio Democrats have something to learn something from Colorado?

Illinois: The first poll taken since the Illinois primary found Governor Pat Quinn in a stronger position than he looked to be a few weeks ago, perhaps due to a bounce resulting from the coverage of his victory. Against state Senator Bill Brady, Quinn leads 42% to 31%, with 4% going to Green Party nominee Rich Whitney; against state Senator Kirk Dillard, who trails the GOP primary by 400 votes and has not conceded, Quinn is up 41% to 35%. An important caveat: The poll was conducted by Victory Research, a group I had never heard before.

Pennsylvania: Now that he has gotten rid of Jim Gerlach’s primary threat, Attorney General Tom Corbett looks unstoppable in Rasmussen’s latest poll: He crushes Jack Wagner 49-29, Joe Hoeffel 51-29 and Dan Onorato 52-26. While this is nothing we haven’t seen before, and even if we account for Rasmussen representing the GOP-friendly end of the polling spectrum, the margins by which Corbett is demolishing his opponents bode ill for other Pennsylvania Democrats.

Michigan: Rasmussen’s poll of this wide open race confirms the GOP can be optimistic since Republican candidates lead 11 of 12 trial heats. Only Speaker Andy Dillon  manages a 36-35 edge over Attorney General Mike Cox, though he trails 40-32 against Sheriff Mike Bouchard and 41-34 against Rep. Pete Hoekstra. The other important match-ups concern Lansing Mayor Van Bernero, who trails by 6%, 9% and 13%, respectively. This poll is somewhat surprising, since EPIC-MRA has repeatedly shown Cox to be the strongest Republican in the general election; it is also striking that Democrats looked to be in worse shape when Lieutenant Governor John Cherry was in the race. Cherry never looked to be within striking distance, whereas Bernero and Dillon do.

Poll watch: Rubio edges ahead for the first time, Castle and McCollum grab decisive leads

For the first time, Marco Rubio leads Charlie Crist in Florida’s Republican primary - and it’s not even a Rasmussen poll! He has a 47% to 44% over the Governor in Quinnipiac’s latest poll of the race.

The surprise isn’t necessarily that Rubio has edged ahead (while Crist looked truly formidable when he jumped in the Senate race in May, the primary always looked like it could get very tricky) but that he has done so effortlessly. In June, Crist had a 54% to 23% lead, which he maintained in August; by October, his margin was cut by half (50-35) and Rubio gained another 20% since the fall. There are still 9 months to go before the election, Rubio has yet to air any ad or deploy the heavy artillery but Crist has already collapsed! What will it be once the former Speaker has spent his money introducing himself to all voters? After all, 42% of Republican respondents say they do not know him well, versus only 6% who say the same of Crist.

This is not simply due to conservatives turning against Crist, far from it. Like so many of his colleagues, the Governor has seen his approval rating melt during the economic crisis. Back in June, it stood at 62-28; now, at 50-38. What this means is that Democrats might be better off facing Charlie Crist in the general election - something I frankly never thought I would say.

For now, both Republicans have a commanding lead over Rep. Kendrick Meek: Crist is up 48% to 36%, Rubio is up 44% to 35%. But this does not mean Democrats should give up on this race. For one, 72% of respondents say they know little about Meek, which makes his name recognition far weaker than either of his opponents’. As importantly, what might these numbers look like after Crist and Rubio have spent their millions (both are very prolific fundraisers) blasting each other throughout the summer? (The primary won’t be held before August 24th.) Their favorability rating should be far lower, while Meek is also a well-financed candidate who might have been able to use that time to air unchallenged positive ads.

Meanwhile, in other Senate polls…

Delaware: No Beau Biden, no Ted Kaufmann, no Matt Denn, no John Carney - the highest-profile candidate Democrats can hope for at this point is Newcastle County Executive Chris Coons. Always eager to crush Democrats’ spirits, Rasmussen wasted no time before coming out with a poll pitting Coons to Rep. Mike Castle and the results are rather brutal for the defending party: Castle leads by a massive 56% to 27%! Research 2000’s October survey had Castle up 51% to 39% over Coons, which is 17% more optimistic for Democrats, so we’ll say what other surveys have to say, but there’s no question that Republicans have now become very likely to pick-up this seat. Most stunning is the 31% of Democrats who say they are voting for Castle; sure, that means Coons has some room to grow, but if these respondents are willing to support the Republican outright rather than say they are undecided, it says much more about the congressman’s popularity than Coons’s lack of name recognition.

Nevada: No surprises in Research 2000’s latest Nevada poll: Harry Reid is still in a terrible position. Weighed down by a 34-55 favorability rating, he trails his opponents by brutal margins: 52-41 against Danny Tarkanian and 51-42 against Sue Lowden. Research 2000 tested potential replacements and found that Nevada Democrats cannot hope to pull a Dodd: Rep. Berkley trails 46-40 and 45-40 and Secretary of State Rose Miller is down 44-36 and 43-37. That such well-known Democrats are polling this weakly against such low-profile Republicans suggests NV is very determined to vote Republican in November. One candidate who manages small leads is Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, but he just announced he wouldn’t seek statewide office - not that Democrats had much reason to rest their hopes on him, since he is over 70!

New York: The third poll to test Harold Ford Jr.’s primary prospects is also the one to found him closest: Research 2000 shows Kirsten Gillibrand leading 41% to 27%, with 3% for Jonathan Tasini. Ford is surprisingly well-known among New York Democrats (his favorability rating is 40-13), while Gillibrand has more than avoided David Paterson’s fate (her rating is 46-26). Whatever Ford’s baggage, there is no denying that he still has plenty of room to grow and this will be a real race if he jumps in but that has more to do with Gillibrand’s vulnerability than anything else - remember that she’s been in trouble in primary polls no matter who she’s been matched-up against, and she did trail repeatedly against Carolyn Maloney over the summer.

Meanwhile, in other gubernatorial polls…

Florida: If Alex Sink and Bill McCollum were within the margin of error throughout 2009, how long could that have lasted in the current environment? While the conventional wisdom has been that McCollum comes with electability issues, the bottom line is that we are talking about an open seat race between two credible candidates in a swing states, a situation which in 2010 is bound to favor the GOP. Indeed, the new Quinnipiac poll finds McCollum grabbing a decisive 51% to 41% lead, up from the 4% edge he held in October; at this point, it goes beyond name recognition, though Sink should at least be able to somewhat get closer once she reduces the notoriety gap. One good news for Sink in the poll: 22% of Democrats say they are undecided, but only 11% of Republicans.

Illinois: Attacked from all corners and seeing his primary fortunes sink, Governor Pat Quinn is also in a bad position in the general election according to a new PPP poll. He trails former AG Jim Ryan 42% to 35% and trails former state party chair Andy McKenna 42% to 36%; Dan Hynes, however, leads both Republicans (40-35 against Ryan, 38-36 against McKenna). This is quite a decisive

Arizona: This has been one of Democrats’ top opportunities of the cycle because of Governor Jan Brewer’s unpopularity, but a new Rasmussen poll shows that the GOP is in a position to nominate someone who can perform much better: Treasurer Dean Martin has a 31% to 29% edge over Brewer, with John Munger at 7% and Vernon Parker at 5% (Parker has dropped out). The swap would be helpful to Republicans: Not only does Brewer have a dismal approval rating (37-60) but she trails Democratic front-runner Goddard 43% to 41% whereas Martin leads 44% to 35%. That’s a turnaround from Rasmussen’s last 2009 poll, in which Goddard had a lead against Martin. The shifting landscape is affecting Democratic candidates everywhere.

Ohio: The University of Cincinnati found yet more confirmation that the once mighty Ted Strickland is facing a very tough re-election race: he trails former Rep. John Kasich 51% to 45%. Interestingly, his rating is positive - 50% to 45% - so voters looking for a change are not necessarily doing so because they disapprove of the governor’s performance. This is further supported by the survey asking who respondents blame for the economic crisis. 24% say Bush, 23% say Wall Street and 19% say Congress; only 13% say Obama and 3% say Strickland. Yet, it’s Democrats who are preparing to lose a lot of seats.

Utah: Last week, a Deseret News poll found Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon was holding Governor Herbert under 50%, but Mason Dixon shows Herbert in a stronger position, crushing Corroon 55% to 30%. While Coroon is popular (his approval rating is 47-17), Herbert is showing no sign of vulnerability, with 62% of respondents approving of his job.

New York: No miracle for David Paterson in Research 2000. His favorability rating stands at 34-54 (and yes, that’s just among Democrats) while Andrew Cuomo’s is a formidable 71-15. The trial heat results would be stunning if we hadn’t already seen it dozens of times: Cuomo crushes Paterson 63% to 19%. I’m still at a loss as to how the governor hopes to win the Democratic nod.

Republican Internal polls

NH-Sen: Conservatives have failed to derail Mark Kirk’s candidacy, but we have gotten no look at the primary situation in New Hampshire, where Kelly Ayotte’s situation has seemed a bit more precarious than Kirk’s. (Of course, Democrats would love nothing more than to see the A.G. crash out.) Ayotte sought to remedy the situation by releasing an internal poll that has her dominating the GOP field: Ayotte has 43%, Ovide Lamontagne 11%, Bill Binnie 5% and Jim Bender 3%. Last spring, Lamontagne’s allies claimed he remained well-known among state Republicans so a 32% margin is disappointing but there is a very long way to go until the September primary; given the name recognition gap, Lamontagne has room to grow - not to mention that this is an internal poll.

PA-15: Rep. Charlie Dent is one of the few Republican incumbents who are considered vulnerable at this point, which must not be an enjoyable position. The congressman’s camp sought to counter that perception by releasing an internal poll showing him with a dominant lead over Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan. Conducted by The Tarrance Group, the survey has him leading by a massive 56% to 27%. Take the results with a big grain of salt (it’s an internal, and the polling memo doesn’t even include exact wording questions) but the numbers are obviously tough for Democrats; it would be nice to see a public survey from this district.

An epic polling roundup to get our minds off Massachussetts

Research 2000 and ARG just released two of Massachussetts’s final polls - if not the final polls. ARG found a 7% lead for Brown (52% to 45%), up 4% from where he was just last week. Research 2000, meanwhile, found… a tie: Scott Brown and Martha Coakley receive 48% apiece, a testament to how unpredictable the contest remains heading into Election Day. While at this point any poll that doesn’t have Brown ahead is a relief for Democrats, I don’t have to tell you that even that survey is rough for Coakley: Just last week, Research 2000 found her ahead by 8%, which makes this yet another poll to found stunning momentum for the Republican.

Yet, Research 2000 also confirms the hypothesis I enunciated this morning, as an update to last night’s post: Coakley performs better in polls that include Libertarian nominee Joe Kennedy, who will be on the ballot tomorrow. Pajamas Media and PPP, which gave Brown large leads yesterday, did not include Kennedy at all; surveys that have the race within the margin of error do include Kennedy, who for instance receives 3% in Research 2000. There’s every reason to believe that Kennedy is drawing his voters from the conservative camp, so if the race is close his presence on the ballot could allow Coakley to shave off a few points off Brown compared to PPP’s survey. (ARG’s website appears to be down, so I cannot determine whether they included him.)

It’s hard to think of anything but Massachussetts, but let’s try to do just that: Over the past week, there was so much news to cover that I ignored an avalanche of polls, to which I’ll now get to. Now that we’ve entered 2010, there will be more and more surveys released weekly - even daily - so I will obviously not attempt to cover each one in as much detail as I did over the past year; I will however start with polls that are testing election we’ve seen little data on. Today, those consist in 3 House districts and 2 Western Governor’s races.

(Yes, this is a fairly long post… but I let polls accumulate without covering them for more than a week, so I wanted to get to them all at once to make sure I can focus on Massachussetts and other important news after this!)

Three House races find mixed results for Dems

NC-08: PPP managed to find a freshman Democrat from a swing district with solid standing! In NC-08, a district that swung from Bush to Obama, not only does Rep. Larry Kissell have a strong approval rating (45% to 30%), but he displays no sign of vulnerability in three match-ups against his challengers, leading Lou Huddleston 55% to 37%, Tom D’Annunzio 54% to 38%, Hal Jordan 55% to 39% and Harold Johnson 53% to 39%. Sure, none of these Republicans have much name recognition, but consider all the polls we have seen recently in which incumbent Democrats have struggled to mount any sort of lead against unknown opponents. Yet, not only is Kissell up big but he’s also topping 50%.

ND-AL: The DCCC is relieved Rep. Earl Pomeroy decided to seek re-election, but it doesn’t mean he is a shoo-in to win another term. A new poll by Research 2000 finds him solidly ahead of all of his competitors Kevin Cramer and Duane Sand, but he fails to clear 50% against either. (He’s ahead 46-24 and 47-22, respectively.) This is all the more problematic when you consider that Republicans are 5 times more likely to be undecided than Democrats, so the GOP candidates have a lot of room to grow once they introduce themselves, and the NRCC especially has hope in Cramer (North Dakota Public Service Commissioner). In short: Pomeroy has a good standing and he is clearly favored to win re-election, but he is not safe.

OH-01: If Kissell and Pomeroy look strong, Rep. Steve Driehaus is sinking according to a SUSA poll commissioned by FiredogLake. We already knew that this freshman Democrat was one of the most endangered of the cycle (he is facing a rematch against the Republican he ousted in 2008, and OH-01 is a district with a substantial African-American population, so a drop in black turnout compared to the past cycle would be particularly hurtful to his chances), but SUSA’s numbers are uglier than even optimistic Republicans surely expected: Driehaus trails 39% to 56% for former Rep. Steve Chabot. I don’t need to tell you the odds that an incumbent who trails by 17% might win re-election. (Coincidentally, this is the same exact margin SUSA found against Rep. Vic Snyder on Friday.)

An unexpected Dem opportunity in UT, door is closing in OK

Utah: Democrats were excited at Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Coroon’s decision to challenge Governor Herbert, and a Deseret News poll confirms that Coroon could make the race well-worth watching: Herbert leads 48% to 35%, down from his 56-32 lead back in November. There’s no question that Herbert is heavily favored, but Coroon does represent one third of the state’s population in a capacity that ensures he is a visible presence. At the very least, Coroon’s presence on the ballot could help Democrats ensure that Rep. Jim Matheson isn’t a victim of any potential red wave.

Oklahoma: Whatever Oklahoma’s staunchly conservative status, Democrats had enough of a bench they were expecting to mount a highly competitive bid to defend the state’s governorship. (Governor Henry is term-limited.) Yet, a Tulsa News poll finds that Lieut. Gov. Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmonson are no match for Rep. Mary Fallin; despite their strong favorability rating (Edmonson’s stands at 51-31), they trail the Republican 52% to 36% and 51% to 39%, respectively. A former Lieutenant Governor, Fallin is well-known and popular (54% to 29%). Democrats shouldn’t entirely give up, but the race most certainly leans Republican.

Connecticut and North Dakota won’t be competitive

From the moment Senators Byron Dorgan and Chris Dodd retired two weeks ago, we have known that the races to replace them are unlikely to be competitive. Three new poll confirm that John Hoeven and Richard Blumenthal are very heavily favored to be sworn into the Senate come January 2011.

North Dakota: Richard 2000 finds Hoeven leading 56% to 32% against Ed Schulz, 55% to 34% against former AG Heidi Heitkamp and 56% to 32% against Jasper Schneider. Sure, Hoeven’s lead doesn’t quite reach “overwhelming” status, but looking at the internals it’s hard to see a path to victory for whoever Democrats nominate: There are few undecideds, including among Democratic voters; Hoeven enjoys near unanimous support among Republicans; and he has daunting leads among independents.

Connecticut: We’ve already seen a few surveys displaying Blumenthal’s dominance, but over the past 5 days Quinnipiac and Research 2000 both released surveys confirming it. In Research 2000, Blumenthal leads Rob Simmons 54% to 35%, Linda McMahon 56% to 34% and Peter Schiff 56% to 33%. In Quinnipiac, whose brutal numbers for Dodd were as responsible for driving the narrative of his doom than those of any other pollster, his leads are gigantic: 62% to 27% against Simmons, 64% to 23% against McMahon, 66% to 19% against Schiff. Everything can happen if Democrats aren’t careful (see neighboring Massachussetts), but Blumenthal isn’t Martha Coakley.

CO, NH, NV, OH: 4 key Senate races, 7 rough polls for Senate Democrats.

Ohio: Democrats led this open race for much of 2009, but Rasmussen’s new poll is its second in a row to find Rob Portman has grabbed the edge. He leads Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher 44% to 37% and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner 43% to 40%. These numbers are very interesting because the Democratic establishment holds Fisher to be a stronger candidate; yet, Portman increased his lead against Fisher whilelosing ground against Brunner! Overall, then, the two parties are roughly where they were in early December.

Colorado: This week, we received three surveys testing Colorado, which until this week an underpolled state:

  • Rasmussen has by far the worst set of results for Democrats: Senator Michael Bennet trails former Lieut. Gov. 49% to 37%, and he’s also behind lower-profile Tom Wiens (44% to 38%) and Ken Buck (43% to 38%). Former Speaker Andrew Romanoff trails Norton and Wiens by the same margin but is only behind Buck by 1%.
  • In response to these ugly numbers, Bennet released an internal poll, which might have found better results but he is still behind Jane Norton, 43% to 40%.
  • Finally, just this afternoon Research 2000 released the best news Bennet has received in quite some time: Bennet leads Norton 40% to 39%, Buck 41% to 38% and Wiens 42% to 38%; Romanoff trails Norton by 2% but leads Buck and Wiens by 1% and 2%.

There is quite a lot of disparity between these three surveys, and Bennet’s camp will be delighted that he finally manages a lead in a poll - even if it’s well within the MoE. That said, it is clear from all of these surveys that Bennet is stuck at 40% - a dismal place for an incumbent to be, even an appointed one. Colorado remains a major problem for Democrats.

New Hampshire: Another tough Rasmussen poll, since it shows that what once looked like a Democratic-leaning open seat might now be leaning Republican: Attorney General Kelly Ayotte leads Rep. Paul Hodes 49% to 40%. (This is roughly the same margin Rasmussen found in September.) Hodes does led lower-profile Republicans Ovide Lamontagne and Bill Binnie 45% to 38% and 43% to 37%, respectively. This is

Nevada: With everyone now aware that Harry Reid is one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable senators, there’s been speculation that the party might try to convince him to pull a Chris Dodd, as in retire for the good of the party. But a new poll released last week revealed that Democrats don’t have a Blumenthal-like savior:

  • PPP found Harry Reid trailing Sue Lowden 51% to 41% and Danny Tarkanian 50% to 42% - very ugly margins for a longtime senator against second-tier challengers. Yet, the Republicans enjoy similar margins against other Democrats! Rep. Shelly Berkley trails by 8% against both; Rose Miller trails by 10% and 11%, respectively. Only Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman manages to stay on an equal footing: he ties Tarkanian at 41%, leads Lowden 42% to 40%.
  • If PPP’s numbers were ugly, how can we describe Rasmussen’s? Here, Reid is crushed Lowden 48% to 36% and Tarkanian 50% to 36%! He manages to stay close to former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, but even here he’s stuck at 40%, trailing 44% to 40%.

If polls showing other Democrats doing better than Reid started piling up, the party could hope to convince him to retire; but PPP’s survey cuts that hope short (Research 2000 will also soon release a similar poll), which allows Republicans to feel increasingly confident about picking-up Nevada.

OH, NV and MA: 3 key Governor’s races, three tough polls for Dems

Ohio: If Ted Strickland started 2009 as the clear favorite, he starts 2010 trailing former Rep. John Kasich. Rasmussen finds him trailing 47% to 40%, which is actually a 2% improvement over December’s numbers. Other surveys have found a closer race, but there’s no question that Strickland is in for a very tough battle.

Nevada: Rory Reid is in as much trouble as his father, only the position they’re vying for is different. Sure, Reid manages to lead incumbent Governor Jim Gibbons 43% to 36% in Mason Dixon’s poll, but considering that Gibbons is even more unpopular (his favorability rating is 18% to 53%) than David Paterson that doesn’t mean much; the favorite to win the Republican nomination, Brian Sandoval, crushes Reid 53% to 31%! In a three-way race involving Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who is considering running as an independent, Sandoval and Goodman are close (35% to 33% for the former), with 20% for Reid. There’s no mystery as to why: Reid’s favorability rating is 25% to 35%, Goodman’s 43-15 and Sandoval’s 36-5. Hard to explain Reid’s numbers by anything but his last name.

Massachussetts: Two new polls confirm that Martha Coakley isn’t the only struggling Massachussetts Democrat:

  • PPP shows that Governor Deval Patrick has a dismal approval rating of just 22%. In three-way races involving Treasurer Tom Cahill (as an independent) and one of his 2 Republican opponents, Patrick is ahead but he receives less than 30% (!) and leads whoever is in second place by just 2% or 3%. In both match-ups, the 3 candidates are within 8%.
  • The Boston Globe poll is more favorable to Patrick: His favorability rating is a bad but not horrendous 39/50 and his leads over Cahill are a bit larger. If the GOP nominee is Charlie Baker, Patrick receives 30, Cahill 23% and Baker 19%; if the GOP nominee is Mihos, the numbers are 32, 23 and 19 for Mihos.

Much will depend on how Cahill positions his campaign. A former Democrat, he has been inching closer to the right since announcing he would run as an independent, for instance asking a conservative Republican state legislator to join his ticket.

Democrats’ silver lining is definitely Connecticut

Not only did Chris Dodd’s retirement all but guarantee Democrats will save Connecticut’s Senate seat, but Research 2000 shows they can look forward to in the Governor’s race - and also the 2012 Senate contest. Susan Bysiewicz, who just dropped out of the race last week, was in a very strong position: she led Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele 52% to 33%, Tom Foley 51% to 35% and Mark Boughton 52% to 32%. But the Democrats left in the race look solid as well: Ned Lamont leads 46-36, 46-37 and 46-34 while Dan Malloney is up 44-35, 43-37 and 44-34, respectively.

Research 2000 also tested the 2012 Senate race. In a two-way general election match-up between Joe Lieberman and Chris Murphy, the representative leads the independent senator 45% to 26% - it’s quite stunning to see such a longtime senator fail to receive more than a quarter of the vote. Not only does Murphy crush Lieberman among Democrats (71% to 20%), but also among independents (41% to 22%). Democrats might fear a lot of losses in 2010, but at least Lieberman looks to have too low support to have much hope to win re-election in 2012.

As Dem incumbents tank, open seat candidate Lee Fisher stays afloat

In search for any polling news they can hang on to, Democrats can take solace in Rasmussen’s poll of the Ohio Senate race. Rob Portman does lead Lee Fisher 38% to 36%, but at a time so many incumbents (Chris Dodd, Blanche Lincoln, Harry Reid) are trailing by widening margins, Ohio’s Lieutenant Governor is at least staying competitive.

Of course, that’s nothing for the DSCC to boast about. Portman trailed by wide margins for much of the year, grabbing his first very lead in late September; as such, these numbers find that shifting national environment is impacting Democrats’ Ohio prospects as much as those of any other state. That’s all the more clear when we consider Portman’s standing against Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner: His 40% to 33% lead is the largest he has posted in any survey this year.

But the point remains that Democratic candidates  are managing to stay afloat in the GOP-held open seats they’re hoping to contest (this also goes for Robin Carnahan in Missouri and for Jack Conway in Kentucky). This certainly suggests that evidence that the electorate’s mood is first and foremost anti-incumbent, and that in some cases Democrats might be better off dealing with open seats than in protecting their senators - this is obviously aimed at Chris Dodd, but also perhaps at Blanche Lincoln as I’m certainly open to the argument that Brian Halter would have an easier time winning the general election.

Rasmussen’s poll of Pennsylvania’s Senate race would seem to dispute that hypothesis: Republican Pat Toomey leads Senator Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak by comparable margins, respectively 46-42 and 44-38. That’s all the more a blow to Sestak’s arguments that he’d have an easier time winning the general election given that Rasmussen’s October poll had Sestak in a substantially stronger position than the incumbent (he led by 1%, whereas Specter trailed by 5%). Yet, it goes without saying that such an analysis is deeply flawed.

For a 5-term senator to be stuck at 42% - not to mention to be trailing a lesser-known opponent - if far more problematic than Sestak’s deficit. Specter is universally known, and it will be very tough for him to convince voters who are unwilling to back him that he should have another term. (Corzine’s decisive is the most recent example of the fact that an incumbent rarely climbs out of such low levels of support.) Sestak has more room to grow as few voters have a firm impression of him. That said, there’s no question that PA continues to look like a far better takeover opportunity for the GOP than was anticipated last spring - though I claim some credit in pointing out early that Democrats could come to regret accepting the senator with open arms.

In the Democratic primary, Specter leads Sestak 48% to 35%. While the poll is being covered as great news for the senator because Rasmussen’s October poll had a 46% to 42% margin (reading The Hill’s analysis of Sestak’s “staggering” drop, you would think the bottom has fallen out for the challenger), that remains a very respectable showing for the House member given the name recognition difference and the fact that the campaign has many more months to heat up. That said, Specter has to be reassured that anti-incumbent sentiment is not extending to the Democratic electorate; his favorability rating is very strong among his new party’s base, which renders it difficult for Sestak to get traction.

Yet, the week’s most stunning evidence of Democratic incumbents’ fall from grace is not Specter’s trailing or the 13% deficit Dodd face in a poll released earlier this week (we have gotten used to seeing such results) but rather the collapse of Ted Strickland’s numbers in the gubernatorial half of Rasmussen’s Ohio poll: Despite an approval rating that isn’t dismal (48-50), Strickland trails Republican challenger John Kasich 48% to 39% - a massive margin that confirms sitting Governors will be in a very tough spot next year.

That the poll was released by Rasmussen might lead many to dismiss the results, but there is no denying that Strickland’s situation is worsening. Not only is the trendline negative (in September, Rasmussen released the very first poll finding Kasich ahead - and that was only by 1%), but Quinnipiac confirms that Kasich gaining: Their latest poll, released in early November, had a tie at 40%. Given that Republicans are already slightly favored to pick-up Iowa and Michigan’s governorships, Democrats will have to fight to keep a foothold in the Midwest.

Quinnipiac finds ugly results for Senate Democrats in Connecticut and Ohio

The Senate landscape has been getting progressively more complicated for Democrats, and two new Quinnipiac polls released this morning confirm that the time at which the party was dreaming up further expansions of its majority is long gone.

Ohio: Portman captures his first Quinnipiac lead

This change of fortune is nowhere more obvious than in Ohio. Ever since Senator Voinovich announced his retirement, Democratic candidates Lee Fisher and Jennifer Brunner have enjoyed a big lead in polls over Rob Portman - a lead ranging up to 15% in one survey. That wasn’t because Fisher and Brunner are overwhelmingly popular, nor because Portman has a bad reputation - in fact, neither enjoy a particularly impressive name recognition - but because Ohio’s electorate was still as Democratic-leaning as it had been in 2008. In a generic confrontation between relatively low-profile contenders, voters were decisively choosing Democratic candidates.

That is no longer the case. Quinnipiac, which in early September had found Fisher leading by 11% and Brunner leading by 9%, now finds Portman ahead for the very first time of the year. Sure, the margins are small (39% to 36% over Fisher, 38% to 34% over Brunner) but the trendline is not. Portman’s progression is due both to his solidifying his numbers among Republican respondents and to a 13% turnaround among independents.

Ohio is moving back to behaving like a swing state, and Democrats can no longer expect to coast to startlingly easy victories, as they did in 2006.

This isn’t a particularly mysterious phenomenon, of course. That year, Republican controlled the White House and Ohio’s governorships - two positions that are now in Democratic hands, which allows the GOP to run as the outsider party. That Barack Obama’s approval rating in Ohio is for the first time in negative territory - 45% to 50% - is as important a development in the Senate race’s context as any evolution to Fisher or Portman’s approval rating.

Democrats risk more than failing to pick-up this Senate seat, however: Quinnipiac also finds that they could lose the governorship, as Ted Strickland not only sees his approval rating decline (now 45% to 43%) but is for the first time tied (at 40%) with his Republican rival, former Rep. John Kasich. In September, he led by 10%; in February, by 30%. Those numbers are all the more ugly when we consider that Kasich’s name recognition is very low (67% have no opinion of him): For an incumbent not to lead a little-known challenger a year before the election is a sure sign of trouble.

Connecticut: Dodd suffers setback

Quinnipiac’s second poll of the day is just as brutal for Democrats. Ever since an April poll found him Rob Simmons trailing by 16%, Chris Dodd had managed to cut the gap to single-digits: He was only down 44% to 39% in September, a trendline that coincided with an uptick in his approval rating. But this new poll finds Dodd’s numbers back where they were in the spring: Despite his best efforts to address his image over the past six months, he remains in a deep hole.

His approval rating is stuck at a dismal 40%, with 54% disapproving of his action. Against former Rep. Rob Simmons, he trails 49% to 38%, hurt by a 29% deficit among independents and by his failure to break 68% among Democrats. He also trails former Ambassador Tom Foley 47% to 40%, Linda McMahon 42% to 40%. He ties state Senator Sam Caligiuri at 42% and manages to grab a 1% edge over Peter Schiff; even in that latter match-up, he receives only 74% of the Democratic vote and trails among independents by 13%.

In short, Connecticut confirms its place at the very top of next year’s endangered Senate seats - especially if Rob Simmons, who enjoys a 40% to 10% favorability rating, emerges as the GOP nominee. That means that Dodd’s biggest hope might reside in the Republican primary’s chaotic nature. Any of 5 candidates could clinch victory (Quinnipiac has Simmons leading McMahon 27% to 18%, with everyone else in single-digits); since Connecticut holds its primaries in August, a nasty intraparty fight could give Dodd an opening.

North Carolina: Burr receives the usual numbers

Dodd’s numbers might have gotten worse, but PPP’s monthly look at North Carolina’s Senate race finds little movement. Richard Burr’s approval rating is underwhelming but positive: 41% approve, 30% disapprove. In the general election, Burr might be under 50% but he leads by double-digits: 45% to 35% against Bob Etheridge, 45% to 34% against Elaine Marshall, 45% to 33% against Dennis Wicker, 44% to 32% against Kevin Foy, 45% to 32% against Kenneth Lewis and 44% to 31% against Cal Cunningham.

As has been the case in all polls released, there is no meaningful electability differential between the Democratic contenders. In particular, Marshall and Etheridge would enter the race in a comparable situation (Research 2000 last week had Burr leading Marshall by 7% and Etheridge by 8%). There was some discussion here as to whether that spoke ill of Marshall, since she’d presumably enjoy a notoriety edge, but most surveys have found her name recognition is as low as Etheridge’s.

On the other hand, both Etheridge and Marshall can hope to close part of their general election deficit once they introduce themselves to voters: In their match-ups against Burr, about 25% of Democratic respondents are undecided compared to only 12% of Republicans. That signals the race could certainly be competitive next year.

Yet, it also illustrates the contrast between vulnerable Democratic Senators’ situation (they are struggling to mount any sort of lead against little-known opponents) and vulnerable Republican Senators’ situation: Burr or Vitter might be stuck under 50%, but Democratic and independent voters aren’t committed to ousting them. That might change by next fall, but as of now it is further proof of the enthusiasm gap.

Poll watch: Corzine’s rise, gay rights’ strong support and Specter with dismal re-elect

6 days to go: Corzine grabs significant lead while Deeds sinks

If PPP and Rasmussen had brought some worrisome news to Jon Corzine’s camp yesterday, today’s Quinnipiac poll all but takes cares of their worries. The reputable pollster, which has been polling the contest monthly since August 2008, finds Corzine ahead for the first time since last November - and we’re not talking about a tiny edge: Corzine leads 43% to 38%, outside of the poll’s margin of error. Chris Daggett is at 13%.

If we forget about the recent Suffolk poll’s bizarre results, this is the largest lead Corzine has enjoyed since the first week of January. What is just as important as the margin of his advantage is the level of support he reaches: Corzine is finally able to rise above the 42% ceiling he’s been stuck under for months, with Rasmussen and Quinnipiac now both showing him at 43%. That doesn’t look like much but it should be enough for him to clinch victory as long as Daggett stays in the 12%-14% range.

One caveat: Quinnipiac’s poll was conducted from the 20th to the 26th, so it’s more dated than the two surveys released yesterday (Rasmussen’s was conducted on the 26th only, PPP’s from the 23rd to the 26th). That period corresponds to the intensification of Chris Christie’s attacks against Daggett, and both PPP and Rasmussen found that those attacks were succeeding in hurting the independent and by extension helping the Republican. Quinnipiac has Daggett still more popular than not (21-16), so we shall see what polls say in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Virginia polls are all finding the same result: Bill McDonnell leads Creigh Deeds by double-digits. The SUSA poll that had him up 19% two weeks ago looked like an outlier at first, but it doesn’t look far-fetched anymore. At this point, I’ll do little else than relay the latest numbers. First, Rasmussen has McDonnell up 54% to 41%; the Republican’s favorability rating is so high (62/30) you wouldn’t guess he just went through a heated campaign. Second, Virginia Commonwealth University has McDonnell crushing Deeds, 54% to 36%.

6 days to go, and good news for gay rights in Maine and Washington

Most surveys of Maine’ have found the slightest of edges for the “no” - certainly nothing large enough to reassure gay rights defenders that same-sex marriage will be upheld. (Many California polls had Prop 8 failing in the run-up to the 2008 vote.) But a poll released a few days ago by Pan Atlantic SMS found the largest lead yet for the pro-gay marriage vote: 53% to 42%. That’s a lot of undecided voters for gay marriage opponents to convince, especially given that those who make up their mind at the last minute tend to break towards the “no” in referendum votes.

But that rule of thumb is not that useful for high-profile issues like this one. While it is a cliche to say that an election comes down to turnout, this is one contest in which it is no overstatement: This referendum is the highest-profile vote on Maine’s ballot, so it’s the main issue that will drive voters to the polls. So which group is most motivated by gay marriage will have an outsized importance - and this is one metric on which social conservatives have tended to have an edge.

Another important gay rights vote is occurring in Washington State, which is set to vote on a referendum to establish expanded domestic partnerships (R-71). Two new surveys released this week find the “yes” in the lead: The University of Washington has it easily passing (57% to 38%) while SUSA finds a tighter margin (50% to 43%, with the 40% of respondents who’ve already voted approving partnerships 53% to 42%). Here again, the gay rights-position is favored going into next week’s vote, but referendums are hard enough to poll that this could go both ways.

Note that the White House has ignored gay rights activists’ pleas to take any stance on either states’ votes - let alone an active one.

2010: Worrisome numbers for Specter and Strickland

By now, we are used to seeing Arlen Specter suffering from ugly numbers but it’s hard to overstate how dismal it is for such a longtime incumbent’s re-elect to stand at 23%; 66% of respondents in a new Franklin & Marshall poll say it’s time for something new. His favorability rating (28/46) is barely better.

It’s only because his rival are so little-known (only 26% have an opinion of Toomey, 16% of Sestak) that he manages to still lead direct match-ups. And given the wide name recognition gap, his 33-31 edge over Toomey and his 30-18 lead over Sestak isn’t impressive, especially when you consider that Sestak has closed the gap by 14% since F&M’s prior poll. Sestak does trail Toomey 28% to 20%, but that survey has such a huge number of undecided respondents that it’s not worth discussing much. (Don’t forget that two mid-October polls had Sestak over-performing Specter in the general election.)

Another state, another endangered incumbent: A University of Cincinnati poll finds Ohio Governor Ted Strickland holding on to a 49% to 46% edge against former Rep. John Kasich; among all registered voters, the lead is smaller still (48-47). We haven’t heard that much about this contest, mostly because there hasn’t been much primary or recruitment drama on the side of the challenging party (Kasich signaled he’d get in the race early, and his hold on the nomination hasn’t been contested) but it’s sure to be one of the year’s highest-stake battles.

Polls show GOP boost in Ohio and Michigan, Jerry Brown’s strength in California

OH: Rasmussen gives Portman first lead in 9 months, Kasich first lead ever

Ever since George Voinovich retired, all but the very first of Ohio’s Senate polls found both Democratic candidates with a solid lead over Republican Rob Portman - one that had extended to as much as 15%. But as is often the case, Rasmussen brings comfort to Republicans by finding a far more competitive race: Portman gets 41% against Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher’s 40%, and he is ahead of Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner 40% to 38%. Both margins are well within the MoE, but they represent substantially stronger Republican performances than in other polls.

This is Rasmussen’s first poll of the race, so there is no trendline. In fact, Ohio is rarely polled - especially when compared to a state like New York, which is frustrating considering the high stakes of the Buckeye State’s contests. It’s important to note that Rasmussen contradicts a central finding of other Ohio polls. There is here little name recognition differential between the Democratic candidates and Portman; yet, other polls found Brunner and Fisher far better known. (This is not the first time Rasmussen has found some puzzling name recognition results.)

Rasmussen also tested the Governor’s race, and here again the results are very encouraging for Republicans: Plagued by a mediocre-to-bad approval rating (47% to 50%), Governor Ted Strickland is behind former Rep. John Kasich 46% to 45%. This is the first poll ever released to find Kasich posting any sort of lead, and though the margin is well within the MoE there is no question that this is not favorable territory for any incumbent. Over the summer, PPP and Quinnipiac both found Strickland leading by low single-digits, so this poll does not come out of the blue.

CA: Brown runs far stronger than Newsom

In the heels of its poll finding Barbara Boxer building a lead in the Senate race, Rasmussen released that survey’s gubernatorial numbers. The results should please everyone in the race but San Fransisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. While former Governor Jerry Brown has comfortable leads against the 3 Republican candidates (44% to 35% against Meg Whitman, 44% to 34% against Tom Campbell, 45% to 32% against Steve Poizner) Newsom trails against all three: 42% to 36% against Campbell, 41% to 36% against Whitman and 40% to 36% against Poizner.

I don’t know whether the poll’s most surprising result is the huge differential between Newsom and Brown (Research 2000 recently found Brown running stronger, but nothing resembling Rasmussen’s findings) or the fact that Campbell enjoys a bigger lead than his two Republican rivals. Campbell is not as high-profile as Whitman and Poizner, and he has gotten less media attention - at least when it comes to a national audience. But with Whitman truly to respond to the jaw-dropping revelation that she did not vote for 30 years, Poizner and Campbell definitely have an opening to hammer her; the former is already trying with this hard-hitting new ad.

NJ: Democracy Corps shows Corzine gaining

For months, Democracy Corps has found the most favorable results for Jon Corzine but never had the New Jersey Governor been so close to his competitor: Chris Christie is up 40% to 39%, with Chris Daggett at 11%. Do with the margin what you will (as long as no other pollster finds Corzine within the MoE, whether PPP, Monmouth, Quinnipiac or Franklin, I’ll have trouble believing that Corzine has tied things up), but the trendline is certainly interesting since it suggests Corzine is slowly gaining ground even within Democracy Corps’s turnout model. The evolution is small, however: Christie led by 3% three weeks ago.

MI: Democrats face uphill climb

No one doubts that Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Cherry will have a tough fight on his hands in 2010, but two new surveys suggest Michigan’s governorship is one of the GOP’s top pick-up opportunities next year:

  • An Inside Michigan Politics survey has Cherry trailing Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard 41% to 38%; he does lead businessman Rick Snyder 42% to 34%. IMP only tested Cox in an unexpected 3-way race involving Cherry and Democratic state Speaker Andy Dillon; Cox leads Cherry manages 35% to 33%.

The polls test different match-ups, so it is difficult to conclude anything electability-wise. Yet, Cox can point not only to his 13% lead but also to the fact that he comes on top of both polls’ primary trial heats. He is in a virtual tie with Rep. Hoekstra in one; he has a somewhat larger lead over Hoekstra in the latter. Also: Both institutes find Rick Snyder with only 2% of the GOP primary, but he should not be underestimated: He just surprisingly won the high-profile straw poll at Mackinac Island’s Republican Leadership Conference. This could help him get more attention, raise more money.

CO: A first look at Senate primaries

In what is the first poll testing Senator Michael Bennet’s vulnerability in the Democratic primary, Republican institute Tarrance Group found the incumbent in a dangerous position against former Speaker Andrew Romanoff: Bennet leads 41% to 27%, a certain proof of vulnerability. Obviously, Bennet cannot be held at the same standard as other senators, for whom a 14% lead in a primary would be verging on the catastrophic: Since his name recognition is still relatively low, Bennet has more room to grow than someone like Arlen Specter, despite the fact that the Pennsylvania senator is posting similar numbers.

On the Republican side, former LG Jennifer Norton crushes DA Ken Buck 45% to 15%. It’s still unclear how this race will shape-up: Buck is clearly to frame it as a conservative-versus-establishment battle, so we’ll have to see how Norton seeks to position herself. In the gubernatorial primary, former Rep. Scott McInnis starts far ahead of state Senator Josh Penry; however, McInnis might not be the establishment favorite since Penry has earned a lot of good press in conservative circles as a GOP rising star. He will have to battle McInnis’s superior name recognition, however.

Senate: Qpac has Ohio swinging Dem, Rasmussen shows GOP leading in CO, NH and NV

In the heels of yesterday’s Research 2000 polls that found Democrats Chris Dodd and Blanche Lincoln enjoying sunnier yet still worrisome numbers, a flurry of Senate polls gives both parties something to celebrate. Let’s get right to the numbers, as none of these contests needs any introduction:

  • In Ohio, Quinnipiac confirms what most pollsters have found: Democrats have a a clear early edge. Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher leads former Rep. Rob Portman 42% to 31% while Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is ahead 39% to 34%. (Against car dealer Tom Ganley, who is challenging Portman, Fisher is ahead 41% to 29% and Brunner leads 39% to 31%.)
  • In New Hampshire, Rasmussen is the first pollster to find Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte with a substantial lead against Rep. Paul Hodes, 46% to 38%. The two candidates have a widely differing favorability rating: 58% to 21% for Ayotte, 46% to 38% for Hodes.
  • In Colorado, Rasmussen gives us the very first poll testing former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton - and the numbers are just as worrisome for Democrats as last week’s survey, which tested other Republican contenders. Norton leads Bennet 45% to 36%; she is also ahead of former Speaker Andrew Romanoff, 42% to 34%. Bennet’s favorability rating is a very worrisome 36-49, which leaves me skeptical as other surveys have not found the appointed senator’s name recognition anywhere near that level.
  • In what is quickly emerging as the Democrats’ biggest 2010 headache, Rasmussen finds Nevada’s Harry Reid trailing former party chairwoman Sue Lowden 50% to 40% and real estate developer Danny Tarkanian 50% to 43%. Here again, I find the favorability ratings bizarre, as I am highly skeptical that enough people already know who Lowden is to give her a 48-27 rating. The same goes for Tarkanian: His 57-30 rating makes him as well-known as incumbent senators of most states.

We are once again confronted with a polling situation that has led to many questions over the past few months: In many races, Rasmussen serves us surveys that are more favorable to Republicans than those of other pollsters - but certainly not in a way that allows us to dismiss these results. For one, this is now consistent enough that it is likely due to a difference in the likely voter screen, and there is simply not enough 2010 polling circulating to know which screen could lead to outlier. There is enough evidence out there that Republicans are more motivated that it would be foolish to blindly denounce Rasmussen’s LV model.

More importantly, Rasmussen’s results in most states are really not significantly different from other surveys - certainly not enough for us to dismiss them. I have made this point about Rasmussen’s surveys in VA and NJ, but it also applies to Nevada and Colorado: PPP has found quite troubling numbers for Bennet in CO (if Beauprez leads by 4%, it is that far-fetched for Rasmussen to show a former LG ahead by 9%?) and Mason Dixon’s NV results are very similar to those of Rasmussen - namely Reid trailing outside of the margin of error against these two potential opponents. Research 2000’s survey was a bit better, but it still had both Tarkanian and Lowden ahead.

To recap: Rasmussen’s survey is the third pollster in the past month that has Reid trailing Tarkanian and Lowden - the second that has one of the Republicans ahead by 10%. If that’s not enough for Reid to push the panic button, I don’t know what is.

The one state in which Rasmussen differs substantially from other pollsters is CA since there is no other evidence for its finding that Barbara Boxer is only ahead of Carly Fiorina by 4%. We can’t add NH to this category. Though Ayotte’s lead might be bigger than we have seen, the Granite State is rarely polled and other surveys (UNH, R2000) have also shown the Attorney General in the lead, albeit within the MoE. So Rasmussen finds the Republican in the lead - but not by margin that is not explained by differences in the LV screen. That’s something we should be able to judge for ourselves by the time 2010 rolls around.

As such, we are here in a situation in which the DSCC can point to some polling to suggest its candidates are not in as big holes as Rasmussen suggests - but there are hardly any recent surveys that find what can genuinely be qualified as good for Bennet, Reid or Hodes.

That’s why Quinnipiac’s Ohio poll is so welcome. The state might be one of the Democrats’ golden pick-up opportunities, but the GOP has always believed Portman enough to guarantee a top-tier campaign. Yet, pollster after pollster have found Fisher and Brunner with a consistent lead. Sure, some of it this comes from a name recognition differential (47% have an opinion of Fisher, 41% of Brunner, 27% of Portman) but that alone cannot explain how the Lieutenant Governor can muster a double-digit lead.

The bottom line is that Ohio still looks like the blue-leaning state it became in the 2006 midterms, during which voters gave Democratic candidates two huge victories in the open Senate and gubernatorial seats. In a generic confrontation between relatively low-profile contenders, voters are choosing the Democratic candidate.

This good news extends to the state’s gubernatorial race, where incumbent Ted Strickland is strengthening his position. Quinnipiac finds his approval rating inching upwards - 48% to 42% - and his lead against former Rep. John Kasich solidifying, 46% to 36%. Sure, Strickland is still endangered - as is any incumbent under 50%. But in the current circumstances, a double-digit lead is nothing for any Midwestern governor to be ashamed of - not to mention that it’s Strickland biggest lead in any poll since April.

Coleman, Strickland and Hutchison won’t be happy with new polls

Yet another Ohio polls finds narrowing Democratic edge

This week’s Quinnipiac survey showing a collapse in Barack Obama’s and Ted Strickland’s approval rating in Ohio must have given a lot of Democrats some heartburn, especially since it came in the heels of June PPP poll confirming the Governor’s vulnerability. We now have a third pollster who got in the Ohio fray, and Research 2000 finds results that are similar to Quinnipiac’s:

  • Of the six politicians whose favorability rating is tested, Strickland has the worst numbers by far: 44% to 40%. He leads former Rep. John Kasich 44% to 39%, which is a good result for the Republican given that his name recognition is not particularly high (more than half of respondents have no opinion of him).
  • Over on the Senate race, Democrats have the same edge other polls have found: Lee Fisher leads Rob Portman 42% to 35%, Jennifer Brunner is ahead 40% to 36%. All three have good favorability ratings, though we should take into account the fact that Portman’s name recognition is lower.
  • The one good news for Democrats: Obama’s favorability numbers are strong (59% to 35%). The one caveat is that Quinnipiac’s poll measured his approval rating, so we’re not comparing the same thing.

With three polls released by three different pollsters finding Strickland well under 50% and leading a lesser-known opponent by mid-single digits, there is no more doubt that Democrats are in for a tough fight. If voters do not feel that the economy has rebounded by the fall of 2010, Midwestern governors will be the recession’s most logical victims. We shall see the extent to which Strickland’s weakening numbers affect his party in the Senate race: Fisher and Brunner are systematically ahead of Portman, but the Republican has more room to grow as more voters have not heard about him.

In Texas, Perry leads Hutchison and Obama leads Romney

The Hutchison-Perry showdown is bound to be the mother of 2010 primaries, but it’s also sure to be very hard to poll since it won’t be easy to determine the turnout universe and the enthusiasm of both sides’ supporters. That said, the conventional wisdom going into the race was that Kay Bailey Hutchison would be the heavy favorite to win the gubernatorial nomination. The first poll of the race had her leading by 25%. Yet, polls released since then have struck a fatal blow to those expectations, and the latest survey from the University of Texas goes as far as to show the incumbent Governor is leading 38% to 26%.

While the poll’s MoE is a large 5%, those are great trendlines for Perry - Hutchison led by 6% in UT’s March poll. And I do believe that the Governor has more to gain as the campaign unfolds: His ideology fits better with the state’s Republican base and as such he is well positioned to take an advantage once the campaign heats up and passions flare.

One fascinating nugget in the poll: Obama is ahead of Romney 36% to 34%. Sure, that’s a lot of undecideds we’re talking about - but for a Democrat to lead in any Texas survey is well worth signaling and it’s a clear response to those who worry Obama has already lost the vote of typically conservative-leaning independents.

Minnesota’s first gubernatorial poll that tests Coleman

It’s barely been a week since Norm Coleman conceded the Senate race but PPP has already tested his strength in a potential gubernatorial race. The result: Coleman’s favorability rating stands at a disastrous 38-52 and voters say 2-1 that his handling of the Senate recount makes them less likely to support him in future races. And yet, Coleman remains competitive against three potential Democratic opponents: He trails former Senator Mark Dayton 41% to 39%, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak 43% to 37%; he leads 42% to 34% against state Rep. Margaret Kelliher.

Those numbers suggest Coleman could be competitive in a 2010 race, but they certainly should not make him confident: His name recognition is far higher than that any of the Democrats he was tested against (even Dayton’s) and the fact that he fails to break 40% suggests that his image might have been irremediably deteriorated not only by the recount saga but also by the brutal negativity of his campaign against Franken.

Also, don’t forget that it’s very unclear who will run in this gubernatorial race: None of the four politicians tested by PPP have declared their candidacy. As such, it will take a long time to draw any conclusions as to which party - let alone who - is expected to win the governorship. For those who are really into this contest, Politics in Minnesota has prepared this handy chart tracking the more than 40 politicians (!) who have been mentioned as potential contenders.

Second consecutive poll finds New Jersey tightening

Jon Corzine is still hovering around the 40% mark, but at least he has cut his deficit and gotten Chris Christie back under 50%. After mid-June’s primary, Rasmussen was the first pollster to find the Republican getting majority support; now, their latest poll has him ahead 46% to 39%. The trendline is within the margin of error, but it also comes just days after a Farleigh Dickinson survey showed Corzine facing his smallest deficitsince April. The Governor has a long way to go before he even gets in a competitive position; but his campaign has just started going negative and trying to define Christie, so we will have to see how those efforts go.



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